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The Past Simple Tense

Spelling Tip

Regular verbs in the past simple

  • Add ed to most verbs. Ex. talk > talked , employ > employed
  • If a short verb ends with a consonant-vowel-consonant, double the last letter and then add ed. Ex. stop > stopped, top > topped
    However, do not double the last letter if the verb ends in w, x or y. Ex. play > played, mix > mixed.
  • In longer words, if the last syllable of the verb ends with a consonant-vowel-consonant and that syllable is stressed, double the last consonant and then add ed. Ex. prefer > preferred
    However, do not double the last letter if the first syllable is stressed. Ex. enter > entered
  • If the verb ends in e, just add d. Ex. create > created , live > lived
  • If the verb ends in a consonant + y, change the y to i and add ed. Ex. try > tried

The past simple tense is quite straightforward. The main problem is its spelling rules, which you’ll find below.

We use the past simple to describe an action that started in the past and ended in the past. It could be something that happened twenty years ago or something that happened two minutes ago. It started. It stopped. It’s over.

  1. I visited a client in London yesterday.
  2. She planned the event all by herself.

The most common time expressions used for the past simple are: yesterday, a week (month, year) ago, last (month, year, weekend, Monday) night, the day before yesterday, two days (months, years) ago. The time expression appears either at the beginning or at the end of the sentence – never in the middle of the sentence.

Forming the Past Simple

Subject Verb + d, ed, ied
or irregular form (V2)
Rest of Sentence
I / He / She / It You / We / They walked to the shop yesterday
slept late last Saturday

The past simple is usually formed by adding d, ed, or ied to the base form of the verb, however, in English there are many irregular verbs that take on a completely different form in the past tense. Some people call this the V2 form of the verb. The best thing to do is to try and memorize them.

Negative Sentences in the Past Simple Tense

Spelling Tip

When shortening the 3rd person (he, she, it) negative, just remove the o in not and add an apostrophe (‘)
did not > didn’t

To create a negative sentence in the past simple, use didn’t (did not) + the base form of the verb.

Note: Save the long forms (did not) for when you want to create emphasis. When speaking, put the stress on ‘not’.

Subject didn’t + verb in the base form Rest of Sentence
I / He / She / It You / We / They didn’t walk to the shop yesterday
didn’t sleep late last Saturday
  1. I didn’t talk to John yesterday.
  2. He didn’t steal those ideas from the company.
  3. You didn’t show me the photos from the wedding.
  4. Ron did not sign the document.

Yes/No Questions in the Past Simple

To create a question that will be answered with a yes or no, start the question with Did, then add a subject (the person or thing that does the action) followed by the base form of the verb and only then add the rest of the sentence.

Auxiliary Verb Subject verb in base form rest of sentence
Did I / you / we / they walk to the shop yesterday
he / she / it sleep late last Saturday
  1. Did you ask Tina to go out with you?
  2. Did the employees stay late again last night?
  3. Did Rob finish his assignment yesterday?

Wh-Questions in the Past Simple

Wh- questions are questions that require more information in their answers. Typical wh- words are what, where, when, why, who, how, how many, how much.

To create a wh-question, start with the wh-word, then add did (or didn’t for a negative question), then the subject (a person or thing that does the action), followed by the base form of the verb and only then add the rest of the sentence.

Wh-word auxiliary verb subject verb in base form rest of sentence
What did I / you / we / they
he / she / it
sell the house
Why didn’t rescue me
  1. When did you buy that sweater?
  2. Why did the computer break down?
  3. How long did the train journey take?
  4. Why didn’t you tell me about the accident?

Tag Questions in the Past Simple

Tag questions are those short questions that are tagged onto the end of a sentence. They are used just to make sure the person you’re talking to understood what you meant or to emphasize what you said.

They’re formed either by using a positive sentence in the past simple and then adding didn’t, a pronoun (I, you, we, they, he, she, it) and a question mark.

  1. John scored a goal, didn’t he?
  2. Their dogs barked all night, didn’t they?

You may also add a positive tag when you’re using a negative sentence.

  1. Kate didn’t take out the rubbish bin, did she?
  2. The girls didn’t copy on the exam, did they?

As a rule: When the sentence is positive, the tag is negative.
When the sentence is negative, the tag is positive.

Exercises with the Past Simple Tense

Fill in the correct form of the verb in the past simple as in the examples.

  1. David saw his History professor at the supermarket two days ago. (see)
  2. I didn’t know your e-mail address, so I phoned instead. (not know/phone)
  3. Did you get the message I left the day before yesterday?
  1. I _______ a great book last week. (read)
  2. _______ Adam ______ the jacket that he _______ at the party? (find / leave)
  3. Why _______ you__________ for me at the bar yesterday evening? (not wait)
  4. I _________ for over an hour, but you never __________ up! (wait / show)
  5. My friends _________ to New Delhi via Mumbai a week ago. (fly)
  6. Teresa ___________ the last train, _______________? (catch)
  7. The sunset _________ beautiful last night. (be)
  8. _______ they _________ the client’s deadline yesterday? (meet)
  9. When _____ he ___________ from med school? (graduate)
  10. Ella ___________ to get a hold of you, but you ________ home. (try/not be)

Answers:

  1. read
  2. Did/find/left
  3. didn’t/wait
  4. waited/showed
  5. flew
  6. caught/ didn’t she
  7. was
  8. Did/meet
  9. did/graduate
  10. tried/weren’t

Examples – Past Simple

Positive

  1. I visited a client in London yesterday.
  2. She planned the event all by herself.

Negative

  1. I didn’t talk to John yesterday.
  2. He didn’t steal those ideas from the company.
  3. You didn’t show me the photos from the wedding.
  4. Ron did not sign the document.

Yes/No Questions

  1. Did you ask Tina to go out with you?
  2. Did the employees stay late again last night?
  3. Did Rob finish his assignment yesterday?

Wh-Questions

  1. When did you buy that sweater?
  2. Why did the computer break down?
  3. How long did the train journey take?
  4. Why didn’t you tell me about the accident?

Tag Questions

  1. John scored a goal, didn’t he?
  2. Their dogs barked all night, didn’t they?
  3. Kate didn’t take out the rubbish bin, did she?
  4. The girls didn’t copy on the exam, did they?